Higher Alcohol Prices May Lower Spousal Abuse

"If the price of beer, wine, and liquor is higher, husbands are less likely to beat up their female partners, choke them, or threaten to use or actually use a gun or knife."

Raising the price of alcohol, for example with a tax increase, will reduce the amount of severe violence that men impose on their female partners, according to Sara Markowitz writing in The Price of Alcohol, Wife Abuse, and Husband Abuse (NBER Working Paper No. 6916). If the weighted average price of pure alcohol contained in beer, wine, and liquor is higher, husbands are less likely to kick, bite, or slug their wives with a fist, and will less often use something to hit, or try to hit, these women. The number of times that men beat up their female partners, choke them, or threaten to use or actually use a gun or knife on them will also shrink.

In this study, Markowitz uses the 1985 National Family Violence Survey and follow-ups done in 1986 and 1987. Her sample consists of 1,541 married or cohabiting individuals. These individuals live in various states where the taxes on alcoholic beverages and their prices can vary considerably. There were also price changes for alcohol during 1985-7.

Increases in the price of alcohol will decrease the probability of wife abuse, but the exact amount of this effect is difficult to measure. By one measure, a 10 percent increase in the price of an ounce of pure alcohol shrinks the probability of wife abuse by anywhere from 10 percent to 90 percent. In contrast, Markowitz finds only mixed evidence that a higher price of alcohol will cut down the violent abuse of men by their female partners. Holding the price of alcohol constant, in couples where there is a family history of violence and stress present, the husband is more likely to be abused. The same is true for black and Hispanic men and for those with higher incomes. Older women are less prone to abuse their male partners than younger women. Women working part-time are more likely to be violent, and those with more children at home are less violent than other women.

Similar characteristics influence violence among males towards their female partners. Stress, family history of violence, and being black are all associated with an increased probability of wife abuse. In addition, if the husband is not working (including retired, a student, homemaker, or disabled), the chances of wife abuse increase.

Markowitz finds no relationship between the availability of alcohol and the probability of violence towards women. But if there are more dry counties in a state, women may be less prone to abuse their husbands. The assumption is that it takes more travel time to buy alcoholic beverages, thus decreasing their consumption and its effects.

-- David R. Francis

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